Waste Incineration (WI BREF)

From plastic to electronic scrap, waste is on the rise all across Europe. The average EU citizen produces almost 500kg of waste a year, only 30% of which is recycled.

Much of the waste we produce is treated by waste management facilities that apply incineration processes. Such treatments primarily aim to reduce the amount and hazardous nature of the waste – destroying, however, materials that could be reused or recycled. 

Waste incineration installations also emit health-harming substances including dioxins, heavy metals and particulate matter that contaminate air, water and soil.   

The EU BREF on waste incineration (WI BREF) is setting binding minimum performance standards for these installations, aiming to prevent and minimise the negative impact that waste incineration operations can have on the environment.

Process and current status

The review of the WI BREF is finalised and the implementation phase has started. 

These standards were developed in 2006 and reviewed in 2014. The revised standards were published in the EU Official Journal in December 2019, triggering a maximum four-year deadline by which installations across the EU must comply with the updated requirements. In cases where the BAT conclusions are published before the installation permit is issued, the installations in question must immediately comply with the requirements.

NGOs operating at national level are advised to closely follow the permitting process. The EEB has prepared a briefing to assist them in this mission, including blind spots and suggested recommendations.

The BREF in a nutshell

The new standards include some significant improvements in comparison to the original 2006 ones.

Most notably, progress has been made in terms of monitoring of mercury and dioxin emissions to the air, management of abnormal operating conditions – which are often associated with very high emission levels – and abatement of water pollution. 

However, the new standards also present shortcomings to watch out for. 

They fail to promote the uptake of the most advanced and effective techniques, especially in terms of air emissions abatement, including techniques that have already been in place for some time. 

A case in point? NOx emissions as high as 150 mg/Nm3 (and 180 mg/Nm3 if the most effective technique, known as SCR technique, is not applicable) are suggested ‘as associated with use of BAT’ for existing plants, whereas data show that even generally less effective techniques, such as the SNCR technique, can achieve levels lower than 100 mg/Nm3 (daily average). 

Furthermore, a loophole could allow certain plant operators to pollute more if they add biomass – like wood chippings or vegetable waste – to the materials they already burn, as doing so could place them out of the scope of the standards. Competent authorities must ensure that whenever waste is burnt these dedicated standards apply to curb harmful impacts on human health and the environment.

More details on those aspects can be found in the EEB implementation briefing for NGOs.

For more information about the WI BREF, the EEB’s positions during the negotiation and ahead of implementation, check out the Download section.


Aliki Kriekouki, Senior Technical Officer for Industrial Production: aliki.kriekouki@eeb.org

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